Attempts by the Parliament Budget Office to use federal freedom of information law to find out how cuts to federal departments are affecting service to Canadians have been met with additional surcharges that departments are adding on top of minimal fees required under the Access to Information and Privacy Act, says Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette.
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover is under fire from opposition MPs over a fundraising event where members of Winnipeg’s art and culture community were asked to donate money to the cabinet minister — donations that may have breached federal conflict-of-interest rules.
CTV News showed up to the Thursday evening fundraiser, held at a Winnipeg home, asking to talk to Glover who was in attendance. Upon seeing a CTV News reporter, Glover asked, “What are they doing here?” and subsequently said she had “stopped in briefly” to the event.
CTV News was then asked to leave the house by the homeowner when the reporter asked Glover why she was taking money from people who depend on her department for funding.
JUST PLAIN SCARY
We learn now that a Conservative MP has brought forward, with the blessing of the Prime Minister’s Office, a bill that would require parliamentary watchdogs and all their employees to disclose previous political activities.
The period of disclosure would cover the decade previous to their appointments. The legislation would be retroactive — meaning all current employees would effectively have to submit to political background checks.
Call it the Loyalty Act. According to the bill brought forward by MP Mark Adler of the York Centre riding, if the disclosures turn up suspicious past political activities, MPs or senators could then demand an investigation of the offender or offenders.
What might those suspicious activities be? Who knows? The employee might have done something terrible in the past … like holding a membership in a non-Conservative party riding association.
The bill has the look of something straight out of Stephen Harper’s school of paranoia: guilt by association. It also may well violate the freedom of association clause in the Charter of Rights.
ENVIRONMENTAL ABUSE AND DENIAL
(An excellent summary of Harper’s crimes against the environment)
Is the Harper government guilty? You be the judge
Harper has been Canada’s worst prime minister from an environmental perspective, says David Boyd, lawyer and author of The Right to a Healthy Environment. He argues that Canadians have failed in their responsibility to hold Harper accountable by re-electing him, “eroding our reputation as a green nation.”
Boyd says that if the Right to a Healthy Environment campaign is successful, we’ll have more opportunity than elections to ensure accountability. “Non-regression,” a common principle in countries recognizing environmental rights, sets existing standards as “a baseline that can only be improved, and not weakened,” explains Boyd. “Thus, the recent weakening of key Canadian environmental laws … would have been unconstitutional!”
(Wouldn’t want to confuse the issue with facts, would we?)
EDMONTON – The study of how oilsands pollution is affecting the massive peatlands in the northeast will come to an abrupt halt this spring as two scientists found out last week their funding has been cut.
In an unexpected move, the new federal-provincial Joint Oilsands Monitoring (JOSM) agency did not include wetlands (peatlands, bogs and muskeg) or groundwater in its monitoring plans — even though peatlands cover 40 per cent of the landscape in the northeast oilsands area.
Melanie Vile and Kelman Wieder, biology professors at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, have been working in the Fort McMurray area for years. Wieder said they were surprised and disappointed that peatlands are not included in JOSM’s monitoring plans — especially given the importance of peatlands as an early indicator of pollution impacts.
Critics say wild salmon at risk as 11 companies apply to expand or build new farms
OTTAWA — The Harper government has quietly opened the door to a major expansion of B.C.’s controversial fish farm sector despite warnings by the 2012 Cohen Commission about the effects of net-based farms on wild salmon.
Justice Bruce Cohen’s 2012 report on the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run urged Ottawa to maintain a ban on new farms in that archipelago.
Critics say the lifting of the 2011 moratorium violates the spirit of the Cohen report and could cause disaster for wild salmon stocks. And they condemned the lack of transparency by the government.
HALIFAX – A Halifax environmental group is taking the federal government to court over genetically modified salmon.
Ecology Action Centre (EAC) and B.C-based Living Oceans Society have filed a lawsuit against the Environment Minister, Health Minister and AquaBounty Canada Inc., which is manufacturing the genetically modified salmon.
The manufacturer says its AquAdvantage salmon grows to market size faster than conventional salmon. The company would grow the eggs in PEI then transport them to Panama where they would grow to full size.
However, the Ecology Action Centre said the federal government violated its own legal obligations over the project.
“Our concern is basically, we don’t think they’ve done the due diligence to assess the toxicity of the eggs,” said Susanna Fuller, marine conservation coordinator with the EAC.
The Green Party of Canada was dismayed to learn that the Canadian government has been lobbying Washington to abandon proposed environmental regulations in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Leaked documents obtained by the New York Times reveal that Canada has been pressuring the US to abandon logging regulations, a ban on the harvesting of sharks’ fins, and other environmental provisions included in a draft version of the trade agreement between Pacific Rim nations.
Our current use of the term “environment” has increasingly been subsumed in the media into one issue only-climate change.
Yet, climate change is not primarily an environmental issue. Sure, it involves the environment. In the same way drowning involves water, but we do not describe drowning as a “water issue.” Climate change, like drowning, is a survival issue. Climate change is an issue that can be described best as a security threat-although it involves questions of energy, economy, and the environment.
The harsh reality of our current political climate is that all the basic notions of the environment are under assault. We have entered a political era of “decision-based evidence making.” Stephen Harper’s administration has launched an unprecedented assault on government science. More than 2,000 scientists and researchers in the federal civil service have lost their jobs. Most of these scientists were working in areas of the “environment.”
All the scientists working in our national parks have been laid off. Fisheries and Oceans has lost all its habitat specialists after Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act to remove habitat protection. The entire Marine Contaminants Program at DFO has been eliminated. The list is long. Mr. Harper is not just neglecting science; he is attacking any science or data or evidence that runs contrary to his beliefs or agenda.
PUTTING CANADIANS AT RISK – AGAIN
Main Health Canada research library closed, access outsourced to retrieval company
‘If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.’— Dr. Rudi Mueller, retired Health Canada pathologist
Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News.
The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.
Before the main library closed, the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company called Infotrieve, the consultant wrote in a report ordered by the department. The library’s physical collection was moved to the National Science Library on the Ottawa campus of the National Research Council last year.
“Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management,” the report said.
“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”
“The federal government came up with an idea on the back of a napkin with no evidence and no plan. From my perspective, coming up with a really bad idea and making it a little less bad is not progress.” public policy expert Matthew Mendelsohn, Mowat Centre
Ontario is warning it will soon have to cut training programs aimed at vulnerable Canadians including youth and the disabled as negotiations drag on over Ottawa’s proposed Canada Job Grant. The new training scheme was first proposed by Ottawa in last year’s federal budget and was supposed to begin April 1, but there is still no deal with the provinces. Ontario Training Minister Brad Duguid said the main objection remains: Ottawa plans on paying for its share of the program by cutting transfers to the provinces aimed at “under-represented” groups, including immigrants, persons with disabilities, aboriginal people, youth and older workers.
The article above relates to this one from Harper Watch, Jan. 9 to 14, 2014:
SCANDALS THAT JUST WON’T QUIT
(someday soon this will hopefully all hit the proverbial fan!)
OTTAWA — Move over Senate scandal: Pierre Poutine and the robocalls are back in 2014.
Former Conservative staffer Michael Sona’s trial is scheduled to begin this June. Sona, Tory candidate Marty Burke’s communications director during the 2011 election campaign in Guelph, Ont., was charged last April with “willfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting” in connection with hundreds of automated calls that sent voters to the wrong polling station.
The calls fraudulently represented Elections Canada, and many of the people who received them told investigators they had previously identified themselves as Liberal supporters to Conservative Party callers.
A key player in the 2011 Guelph robocalls scandal is getting immunity from prosecution in the Elections Canada investigation into misleading calls in the last federal election, CBC News has learned.
Andrew Prescott was the Conservatives’ deputy campaign manager in Guelph, Ont., where supporters of other candidates complained they received misleading phone calls directing them to the wrong polling station.
Prescott has a written guarantee “the Crown has no intention” of charging him in connection with the misleading phone calls, according to a source close to the case.
The calls were directed at non-Conservative Party supporters.
The agreement says the Crown is interested in Prescott as a witness and not as an accused. It was reached sometime in December.
(Here we are again, as taxpayers, paying to defend Harper’s minions in court)
Helena Guergis won the right to continue her defamation suit Thursday against Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton and private detective Derrick Snowdy.
Most of the defendants in the case are “indemnified” by the Crown, since they ended up facing legal jeopardy in the course of their duties. Instead of having justice department lawyers represent them, Harper and his aides have employed Staley, billing the taxpayers.
The government won’t say what rate Staley is charging, citing solicitor-client privilege, but he is a top Bay Street litigator with Bennett Jones, and competitors say he likely bills in the $900-an-hour range.
The government doesn’t regularly report details of what it spends on outside legal help, but in response to an order paper question from Liberal MP John McCallum, the Privy Council Office reported that taxpayers had paid $62,000 for legal assistance for fiscal 2012-13 for Harper, and others in connection with Guergis legal matters.
ABUSE OF FIRST NATIONS CONTINUES
The federal government has asked to keep secret the evidence of abuse at St. Anne’s residential school that was entered into open court during a hearing that granted access to documents the government had previously refused to hand over.
A judgment issued last week said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the body responsible for administering settlement claims could access thousands of documents, including those related to a 1992-1996 Ontario Provincial Police investigation that resulted in convictions of several staff members.
During the hearing, the government requested an order sealing evidence given in court, which would prevent the public from accessing it.
STACKING THE COURTS
Lawyer Rocco Galati, backed by the Constitutional Rights Centre Inc., initiated the first legal challenge of Nadon’s selection and warned the Supreme Court: “To allow one level of government to do an end-run” around the Constitution’s requirements to respect Quebec’s distinctive legal culture “opens door to politicization of this court.”
“It’s not about the person’s right to be up there,” Galati argued. “It’s about the constitutional requirements to maintain the federalism that was brokered between the provinces and the federal government.”
Outside court, Galati said the Conservative government’s choice of Nadon was a “blatant attempt to stack the court” with someone who might be favourable to its views and back the federal government position in appeals, if not in a strictly partisan sense. “If it is successful it will diminish the currency of this court.”
Until a few months ago, Stephen Harper had an unblemished record for naming judges to the Supreme Court of Canada without sparking any serious controversy. Of the nine seats on the country’s top court, the Prime Minister filled five, as judges retired between 2006 and 2012, and the legal community mostly nodded approvingly at his choices. Some law professors, predictably, detected a rightward shift after years of Liberal picks, but the credentials of Harper’s selections were hard to dispute. Then came his appointment last fall of Justice Marc Nadon. The initial reaction among veteran court-watchers was frank surprise: The partly retired Federal Court of Appeal judge, 64, a specialist in maritime law, of all things, hadn’t made it onto anybody’s short list for the Quebec vacancy.
Beneath the legal dispute over Nadon’s eligibility, though, lies the more politically fraught mystery of why Harper waded into this controversy in the first place. What was it about this particular judge that attracted the admiring attention of Conservative insiders? The most intriguing possibility, often noted by lawyers commenting on Nadon’s otherwise low-key history on the bench, was his dissenting opinion in a 2009 federal appeal court ruling on Omar Khadr, the Canadian then being held in the U.S. military detention centre in Guantánamo Bay. In that split decision, two judges ruled that Canadian government officials had violated Khadr’s rights by interviewing him at the base and sharing what he said with American authorities, and that Ottawa should press for Khadr to be sent home to Canada. Nadon disagreed, essentially advising the courts to stay out of foreign policy. “Whether Canada should seek Mr. Khadr’s repatriation at the present is a matter best left to the executive,” he wrote.
CANADA’S MILITARY – THE TRAGEDIES CONTINUE
OTTAWA — Another member of the Canadian armed forces has died in an apparent suicide — the eighth in a little more than two months — bringing a furious reaction from a national veterans’ advocacy group.
JPSU, an umbrella for a series of 24 Integrated Personnel Support Centres across Canada, was criticized in a recent Department of National Defence ombudsman’s report for being understaffed, leaving those tasked with helping the most damaged veterans overworked, often inadequately trained and in danger of burnout.
As a result of that report, military brass ordered a limited increase in staff at the worst affected units but the military was unable to confirm Sunday how many staff have so far been added.
OTTAWA — The Harper government paid out as much as $8 million to settle legal claims arising from the collapse of the first failed bid to build new supply ships for the navy, The Canadian Press has learned.
One of the companies that received payment has subsequently been hired to work with Vancouver-based Seaspan Shipyards to provide the design for the new program, which hopes to deliver vessels by 2018-19.
The bid to replace the navy’s two existing replenishment ships has been long and fraught with complications — the military was forced to announce last fall that HMCS Preserver and HMCS Protecteur would retire in 2015, well before the new joint support ships are ready.
THE TAXPAYER-FUNDED PILGRIMAGE TO ISRAEL
(Dozens of people on the trip have made substantial donations to the Conservatives.
The full list is here)
Taxpayers will pay for an entourage of business people and community leaders to accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his Middle East visit starting this weekend, his spokesman says.
Air travel and some accommodation costs will be paid out of government coffers, although full details of the bill are not yet available, Jason MacDonald told a media briefing Friday.
There is also as yet no complete list of all of those who will be accompanying Harper on the trip, MacDonald said.
“It’s still in flux. It is a significant delegation,” he said.
“As far as who pays, typically when people are invited to fly with the prime minister on a trip like this, as part of the delegation, the Government of Canada will cover the costs for the travel.”
The delegation will be somewhere between 150 and 200 people, though despite the unusually large group going, no opposition MPs have been invited on the trip, CBC News has learned.
For decades, Canada’s traditional approach to the Middle East has been overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Israeli position. On occasion — but not many — Canada has spoken bluntly to Israel about its actions, as true friends would do. But the pride of previous Canadian governments in being “multilateral” and an “honest broker” can hardly be portrayed as being anti-Israel. Yet that claim is now accepted as fact by the conservative chattering classes of both Canada’s and Israel’s elites.
It is time for both countries to abandon their respective fantasy worlds. Israelis should work hard this week to ignore most everything they hear from Canada’s prime minister. And Canadians should work equally hard to wrestle back Canada’s foreign policy debate from Harper and his crowd. For both sides, time is truly running out.
For a two state solution to work, each side must compromise and bargain in good faith. Israel might be correct that settlement construction is a distraction compared to the more longstanding issues of displaced Palestinians’ right of return to their pre-1948 homes and what to do with Jerusalem. But Israel cannot unilaterally define the terms in dispute and the reality is that construction of settlements is seen as a land grab by the Palestinian Authority.
Even the polarizing Ariel Sharon understood the irritant that settlement construction posed when, as Prime Minister in 2005, he instructed unilateral Israeli disengagement in the Gaza Strip.
This is complicated and neither side is blameless. However, mediation and conciliation requires some degree of neutrality and recognition of both parties’ positions, needs, interests and demands.
If the international community is to help broker an elusive Middle East Peace Accord, it must do so from an objective position of neutrality. Canada’s overt support and cheerleading for one side compromises its ability to contribute meaningfully to that process.
Stephen Harper’s speech, policy on Israel ‘biased,’ ‘unilateral,’ Arab-Israeli legislator says
An Arab-Israeli legislator who stormed out during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to the Knesset on Monday says he did so as a form of protest against Harper’s bias.
Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Ahmad Tibi said Harper’s speech was “biased” and that he described Israel in “a very unbalanced way.”
“We are 20 per cent of the population, we are suffering discrimination,” Tibi told Solomon.
“That democracy of Israel is a selective democracy, ethnic democracy. Canada is a democracy and people are equal without relation to their ethnic background. Here, there’s a problem with that,” he said.
Tibi is a deputy speaker of Knesset and leader of the Arab Movement for Change, or Ta’al.
Canada’s foreign policy toward Israel is “biased, non-balanced, and that’s why Canada has a very marginal role in the Middle East,” Tibi said.
He and colleague Abu Arar walked out, Tibi said, “to say that we are very much unsatisfied with the remarks and the policy of Prime Minister Harper. It is very diplomatic. It’s a protest which is legitimate in any parliament.”
JERUSALEM — In a historic speech here, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rolled out a new definition of anti-Semitism — name-calling that will be controversial at home and on the global diplomatic circuit but which will make him into a mega-star in Israel.
Two Arab-Israeli members of the 120-seat Knesset thought Harper’s speech was objectionable enough even before he got around to this controversial re-definition. They walked out on his speech, loudly hollering at the Canadian prime minister about injustices to their communities.
Harper’s speech was historic because it was the first ever by a Canadian prime minister to the Knesset. It was just as historic for Israel in that it was the first time two MKs — Members of the Knesset — walked out on a visiting foreign dignitary.
But, of course, there has never been a speech to the Knesset like Harper’s speech.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Sunday Canada will not get involved in resettling Palestinian refugees displaced by the expansion of controversial Israeli settlements.
Michael Bell, former Canadian ambassador to Israel and Jordan, said the government’s refusal to articulate Canada’s official foreign policy regarding the settlements along the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — captured by Israel in the 1967 war – may signal the prime minister is planning to change this country’s official stance.
“What concerns me for this visit is what is going to come out of it that is new and different other than a mutually supportive and sympathetic voicing of views?” he told CTV.
“Are we going to change the policy document? Is Israel going to ask for that?”
Bell said Harper’s position on Israel goes beyond supporting the state’s right to exist, but rather is a political alignment with the right-wing policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mohamed El Rashidy of the Canadian Arab Federation said the government’s refusal to criticize Israeli occupation of the territories was a “very disappointing step.”
He noted the settlements are widely recognized as illegitimate by members of the international community, including Israeli allies such as the United States.
Harper’s unquestioning support of the Netanyahu government does little to benefit a diverse Israeli culture, or support a peace deal, he added.
Mousa Al Shaer/ Journalist reported to MADA that he went with about 7 of his colleagues to cover Harper’s visit, after coordination with the Department of Information in the Office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When they arrived to Bethlehem at the Nativity Church, the Canadian press and media accompanying Harper were allowed entrance first by his Guards, and then they allowed the Palestinian Press and journalists to enter the Church.
Al Shaer added: “once we entered the church we were prevented from filming, so we protested against that, but the guard punched Al-Mahid TV cameraman Amer Hijazi by a metal piece on his fist to Hijazi’s chest. Al Shaer also reported that the journalists are protesting against the attack on their colleague in front of the Nativity church right now.